<a novref=true text=@key href=pattern-surprises.html>Surprises</a>


Events and consequences that are unexpected by players and disturb their attention.

Not all things that happen in games can be foreseen by players, and this is often one of the charms of playing games. When these events not only are unpredicted but the possibility of them happening has not occurred to players, these events are Surprises and catch the players' attention.

Example: First person-shooters where players cannot have awareness over everything in their surroundings can easily cause Surprises, for example, being attacked from an unsuspected direction. Many of these games also include Surprises in the form of secret rooms.

Example: One of the strengths of having stories in games is that they allow for Surprises to be planned so that they occur at certain points in gameplay.

Example: One of the primary rewards for being a game master in roleplaying games is to be surprised by what the players do with the Game World and the story one has constructed.

Using the pattern

One requirement for Surprises is the absence of Game State Overview or the presence of Imperfect Information or Limited Foresight. Because of this, Surprises are most often achieved by having Dedicated Game Facilitators such as Game Masters. Never Ending Stories are a way of overcoming the problems of Narrative Structures by combining Surprises with Replayability, thus making the narrative continue and change forever. Relying on the unexpected, Surprises are difficult to combine with Predictable Consequences and Replayability due to Trans-Game Information between game instances; and especially difficult when players' have Anticipation of future events through Hovering Closures. Likewise, too many Surprises in games can negatively influence players' Perceived Chance to Succeed and Illusion of Influence. Self-Facilitated Games also are limited in how to create Surprises since specific Surprises cannot be initiated as reactions to current game states without being known.

Events caused by players that can produce Surprises are Disruption of Focused Attention events or the revealing of secret tactics or Secret Alliances, especially if these cause Role Reversal or Betrayal. These last cases of Surprises can have a stronger impact if players have Identification with the Characters involved. Surprises can be part of Exploration or Construction activities and the effects of Deadly Traps, Easter Eggs, and Leaps of Faith. Orthogonal Unit Differentiation can give Surprises when meeting opponents since meeting one does not mean that players know the abilities of all future encounters. Completing Unknown Goals is an example of a positive Surprise and is the completion of any goal where the Rewards are unknown. Red Herrings are not Surprises in themselves but lay the foundation for Surprises, often in the form of Role Reversals.

The impact of Surprises can be increased making them require Irreversible Actions. The presence of God's Fingers, Traces, and Outstanding Features all make Surprises more difficult to achieve, while Save-Load Cycles lessen the impact of Surprises since players can replay the event that caused the Surprise and be prepared.


Surprises automatically give players Limited Planning Abilities although they may not be aware of it. Surprises can be planned into the design of Narrative Structures and Levels, with Cut Scenes as an option to completely control the presentation of the events that are intended to Surprise. Surprises can either strengthen or lessen Immersion in games depending on the type of Surprise. Disruption of Focused Attention events usually give Spatial Immersion as they often occur within the Game World but ruin Cognitive Immersion as they cause Attention Swapping. Surprises caused by the unfolding of the Narrative Structure can cause Emotional Immersion, as it can be based upon Betrayal or Role Reversal. Emotional Immersion can also be caused by Surprises with negative effects, for example Damage that affects players' Characters.

The use of Surprises in games makes Aim & Shoot and other Dexterity-Based Actions more difficult.


Instantiates: Attention Swapping, Immersion, Spatial Immersion, Emotional Immersion, Irreversible Actions, Disruption of Focused Attention

Modulates: Dexterity-Based Actions, Exploration

Instantiated by: Deadly Traps, Game Masters, Construction, Limited Foresight, Role Reversal, Betrayal, Easter Eggs, Leaps of Faith, Unknown Goals, Imperfect Information, Dedicated Game Facilitators, Narrative Structures, Rewards, Never Ending Stories, Cut Scenes, Orthogonal Unit Differentiation, Exploration

Modulated by: Damage, Predictable Consequences, Levels, Red Herrings, Identification, Limited Planning Ability

Potentially conflicting with: Predictable Consequences, Illusion of Influence, Replayability, Game State Overview, Self-Facilitated Games, Anticipation, Hovering Closures, God's Finger, Traces, Outstanding Features, Save-Load Cycles, Cognitive Immersion, Immersion, Aim & Shoot, Trans-Game Information, Perceived Chance to Succeed